Aspen community plan meets P&Z muster |

Aspen community plan meets P&Z muster

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – By the time the Aspen City Council gets finished with the document, the Aspen Area Community Plan probably won’t carry the year 2011 in its title.That’s because the council plans to hold hearings and discussions on the plan in January, the first month of the new year and the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the document’s revision.On Tuesday, city of Aspen and Pitkin County planning commissions formally voted to adopt the plan. On the city side, the vote was 3-1, with only city planning and zoning commissioner Bert Myrin opting not to approve. He objected to the 2011 AACP’s evolution from a “regulatory” to a “guiding” document, and expressed concern about the expected gap between the time when council approves the plan to the time when the council changes city code to conform with the intent of the plan.Myrin said that despite his vote, he’s mostly happy with the plan.”Council’s plan is to replace that tool – [the status of ] the plan as a regulatory document – with changes to the code,” he said. “I understand the goal, but if you don’t pass it simultaneously, there’s a gap.”My concern is that gap, and the opportunity that someone could do something [harmful to the community] after council passes AACP but prior to changing the code,” Myrin added.At the county government level, the work is basically finished. The county P&Z’s 4-1 adoption is final, but the Board of County Commissioners might hold a vote to ratify the document, according to city long-range planner Jessica Garrow. John Howard provided the county entity with its lone vote against the plan.It’s been a long road for the 2000 community plan revision, which turned out to be more of a complete rewrite than an update, according to those involved with it over the past two years and 10 months.The process got under way in early 2009 with small community group meetings and “clicker sessions” that asked the public to use remote-control survey technology to weigh in on what they wanted in a road map to the community’s future.Over the last several months, the countless hours of shaping the plan began to take their toll. Commissioners haggled over word choices in meetings that seemed to offer lessons in semantics. The business community jumped into the fray and sought changes in the plan’s overall tone toward development and growth. The plan even became an issue in the May contests for the Aspen mayor and council.At various public meetings – though it seemed everyone was publicly praising the hard work of P&Z members – there also were many critics of the plan’s content and the time involved in writing and revising the document.Aspen Planning and Zoning Commissioner L.J. Erspamer said he’s “comfortable” with the finished product, but added that in his eyes, it’s far from perfect. He said he was able to convince the other commissioners to add language about Aspen’s parking issues, believing that to omit comments about parking would be a mistake.The P&Z’s labor – save for future discussions over land-use code amendments that follow the plan’s intent – is basically finished. “And I’m under 70 still,” Erspamer quipped.”Process is always frustrating,” he said. “And I think that without a defined process, you spend more time than necessary going through some of these issues.”The plan’s chapters address issues including growth, transportation, the environment, the health and welfare of children and longtime residents, historic preservation, parks and recreation, and other important aspects of community life.Erspamer said the document still needs some tweaking at the council level. “But it’s the best we could do in two years and 10 months,” he said.What could have helped, he said, was a third-party meeting facilitator to guide city and county P&Z commissioners through each step and move them forward when the discourse was bogging down.During the summer, members of city and county staff, including Garrow and county community development director Cindy Houben, gradually assumed that role and were able to steer the process toward completion and Tuesday’s vote.”It’s hard for someone to chair the meeting and also participate in the discussion,” said Erspamer, who is vice chairman of the city P&Z. “Finally toward the end, [staff] took over and kept us on task.”Garrow said she looks forward to the future work involved in matching city code with the document’s aspirations.The document is 61 pages long, and the appendix adds 41 pages. “Implementation steps,” a term that replaced what were originally called “action items,” are included in the plan’s appendix. The steps cover suggestions for government action, including land-use code changes that aim to protect the city from hyperdevelopment.